DOWN HOME TO HEAL UP
It’s hard to make healing feel dramatic. But that’s the challenge to which Julie Marie Myatt mostly rises in this engaging Midwest premiere. In 90 minutes she depicts in fragments—since these things must be done delicately—the beneficent aftermath of a haunted veteran’s return to California. Jessica Thebus’ painstaking but pleasure-giving staging ensures that all these tiny epiphanies fire on cue.
30 years out but much more so inside, Jenny Sutter (Lily Mojekwu, sullen and secret for most of the action) is coming back to Barstow after horrific tours of Iraq and Afghanistan: In nightmares and flashbacks that betray casebook PTSD, she relives what she calls her murder of 15 locals. (Working a checkpoint, she failed to inspect a baby’s diaper—just where the unspeakable mother had concealed an IED.) In her sleep she keeps shouting (if you can believe it), “Give me a cause to believe in!” (How very convenient for a playwright to deliver the message in an overheard dream scream…)
Anyway, en route to her desert home, hard-boiled Jenny meets Lou (Jennifer Avery, depicting ten different kinds of neediness), a 45-year-old dreamer who’s addicted to everything. She invites Jenny to stay at Slab City, their hippie commune where she meets, among others, a kind-hearted, humanistic, self-appointed preacher (Lawrence Grimm), a hairdresser turned therapist (Hanna Dworkin), and a cynical and depressed jewelry maker (Kurt Brocker): In a tender scene this last seeker manages to overcome his demons to give Jenny the kiss she’s been asking for since she arrived. At its best, the play shows how people can be both good to and for each other.
Nothing major happens here, except when, at the welcome home party that kindly Lou throws for her, Jenny freaks out when Donald stupidly pops a balloon. What counts are the pauses that say more than dialogue, the connections we infer happen between scenes, and Mojekwu’s final breakdown/breakthrough as she returns to life and puts war and death behind for good.
As a character crudely puts it, Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter is a play about people “figuring their shit out.” Overall Myatt’s healing feels real, even if these six happy exiles sometimes resemble the eccentric Sycamore clan in You Can’t Take It with You. The real test for this play is what it says to the veterans in the audience. My guess is—considering that there are an incredible 25 suicides to every combat death— that it can only help our appalling failure to take care of our wounded warriors.
photos by Michael Brosilow
Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter
Next Theatre Company in Evanston
scheduled to end on December 23, 2012
for tickets call 847-475-1874, ext. 2 or visit http://www.nexttheatre.org
for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com